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Deaths reported as flu season spikes

At least eight people have died from the flu virus in Jalisco over the past month, health authorities revealed this week. 

A 52-year-old man living in the town of Ojuelos became the first influenza victim in Jalisco this year, the State Heath Department (SSJ) confirmed Monday.  He presented no underlying medical conditions and had received a flu jab a few months earlier, according to his family.

Just two days later, Hector Perez Gomez, director general of Guadalajara’s public civil hospitals, announced that seven people had died from influenza at his two facilities (Civil Viejo and Civil Nuevo) in the final weeks of 2013.

He said in recent weeks the hospitals have attended 275 patients with flu-like symptoms; 31 were confirmed as influenza cases – 14 of them AH1N1, this year’s predominant strain.

“We have noticed many more severe cases in the past few weeks,” he told reporters.

Perez Gomez said some similarities between the seven victims had been observed: for example, all were overweight and none had taken the flu vaccination.

However, the hospital director did not elaborate on whether the deceased were categorized as “flu deaths” or  “flu associated deaths.” 

The recent deaths have spurred health authorities to crank up their vaccination efforts. Special stations are to be set up in the plazas of towns around the state and extra flu vaccines are being distributed to health clinics. (See Chapala sidebar page 2.)

While everyone may get a shot, priority will be given to to those most at risk to the flu: the very young and very old as well as people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure.  (However, the CDC has said this year’s flu season may see an uptick in the number of middle-aged adults succumbing to the disease.)

The flu vaccine is free for everyone in Jalisco, regardless of their nationality.  They can be obtained from any local heath clinic (centro de salud)  run by the Jalisco Secretaria de Salud (SSJ) and at some IMSS clinics for subscribers.

It is no surprise that many flu cases this year have been identified as the AH1N1 strain, which was responsible for at least 200,000 deaths worldwide in 2009, according to CDC estimates.   Previously referred to as swine flu, AH1N1 transmission is no longer taking place from pigs to humans but from humans to humans on a seasonal basis.

The vaccine provided to people in North America this season has been targeted specifically at this strain.

The flu has spread quickly through the United States this season, with several states, including Texas, issuing “influenza health alerts.” The Sacramento Bee reported last week that California’s public health director declared the flu to be “widespread” in the state with seven deaths reported so far.

The repercussions for Jalisco are obvious: travel between this state and California reached a peak at the end of 2013 as thousands of migrants returned home to spend the holidays with their Mexican families.

It’s not too late to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that people get a  flu shot as long as flu viruses are circulating. Influenza seasons are unpredictable and can begin as early as October, and substantial activity can occur as late as May.  The CDC says it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that provide protection against the flu.

Flu shots in Chapala

Personnel from Jalisco’s Health Ministry will be applying free immunizations against influenza at three public venues in the Chapala area over the coming week.

 The shots will be available at a station set up outside Chapala’s Soriana supermarket on  Saturday, January 18 and Wednesday, January 22, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The program will be repeated at the Ajijic branch of Farmacias Guadalajara with the same time schedule on Saturday, January 25.

Flu shots are also offered on a first-come-first-serve basis Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon at Chapala’s Centro de Salud, Flavio Romero 406, and the Ajijic branch on Calle Ocampo at the corner of Alvaro Obregon.  Persons who hold official immunization booklets are asked to take the document with them so that their records may be kept up-to-date.


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